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Meeks returns, reflects on first year in NBA

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MBSK 08_09 UK_LSU Web 52.jpgWhen the majority of underclassmen turn pro, they're gone for good.

A lot of them vow to return to school and finish one day. Some actually do. Most don't. When the green paper starts to stack up, what's the sense in coming back to get a single piece of white paper with a school's name on it, they think.

Jodie Meeks isn't one of those people. Despite a year in the NBA and a promising professional future, Meeks made a promise to return to school to complete his degree.

"Before I made my decision last year, I told my family I would make a commitment to come back," Meeks said. "That was one of the big things for me was to come back and finish, not only for my family, but for myself. I wanted to get a college degree."

Meeks exchanged the limelight of the professional world for his old backpack and a couple of books- at least for a few weeks. The former Wildcat is in the midst of a four-week term of summer classes before heading back to the NBA.

The 6-foot-4, 208-pound shooting guard is mandated to play in the NBA Summer League this year so he can only take the one four-week session, but with only 15 hours left to graduate after this year's summer class, Meeks, a marketing student, plans to graduate in the summer of 2012.

"It's different going to class again," Meeks said. "In class, as soon as I walked in the teacher was like, 'Wow, you're back in school?' "

He would later answer with an 86 percent on his first test.

Meeks has used his time in Lexington to catch up with old friends and teammates as well as used it as a time to improve his game. His old stomping ground at the Joe Craft Center has once again become his basketball sanctuary.

Although the men's practice gym has been closed the last few weeks, Meeks has been putting in long hours in the women's gym to improve his jump shot. Meeks struggled a little bit with his shot in his first year in the NBA (38.8 percent from the floor, 31.8 percent from behind the arc), a bit surprising considering his shooting prowess in his final season in college.

"It went pretty well," Meeks said of his first year. "I obviously wanted to play a lot more but sometimes that doesn't happen for first-year guys. Overall, I think I learned a lot about myself, especially in Milwaukee. They taught me a lot about defense there. I was glad to get traded to Philly because they wanted me since last year's draft."

The biggest difference in the NBA was adjusting to his new role, Meeks said. As the go-to guy in the 2008-09 UK men's basketball season, Meeks said he became accustomed to having the ball in his hands. He's now learned how to play off the ball and adjust to limited time.

"It's a big adjustment just because you don't ever think about not playing," Meeks said. "When that opportunity comes, you have to be patient. You can't pout or feel sorry for yourself. You've just got to work as hard as you can to get on the court. Once the opportunity presents itself, you have to take advantage of it."

Meeks, who averaged 12.0 minutes per game in his first season, which is actually quite large for a rookie, said he obviously would have liked to have played more but does not regret his decision to turn pro.

The thought of what could have happened had he stuck around with John Calipari and his star-studded recruiting class crossed his mind from time to time, but ultimately he had to do what was best for his long-term future.

"Sometimes I think about it, but I was happy with my decision," Meeks said. "All year long I was happy that I left. I'm sure I could have helped Kentucky out but that wasn't the best decision for myself."

Despite an average shooting percentage in his NBA rookie season, Meeks showed potential when given a chance, especially late in the season. He averaged 4.7 point per game but 13.5 points over his final six contests. 

The Norcross, Ga., native, who was part of a four-player trade that sent him to the Philadelphia 76ers in midseason, said he was happy with the trade. Meeks said he's felt at home in Philly because he's from a big city and said the 76ers were one of the teams that showed the most interest during last year's NBA Draft.

"That kind of stuff happens," Meeks said. "It's a business. Unfortunately I had to learn the business my rookie year, but I was happy to get traded where I wanted."

Meeks, who broke Dan Issel's single-game scoring record for points with 54 against Tennessee on Jan. 13, 2009, said he tried to keep up with this year's Cats but had difficulty following because of the arduous 82-game NBA schedule.

He was watching during UK's heartbreaking loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight and admitted that he thought about what would have happened if he was still playing with the Cats. Kentucky shot just 4-of-32 from 3-point range that game.

"They couldn't really hit anything so I was thinking if I was out there I could have helped them out, but all the other games they found a way to win even when they were off," Meeks said. "It was kind of tough to watch."

Five potential UK underclassmen will join Meeks in the NBA, including John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton, all of whom are projected to go in the first round of the June 24 NBA Draft.

Meeks didn't know any of the freshmen that well but offered some advice to the future NBAers.

"I would just say be yourself around NBA people," Meeks said. "They want to see you play your game, but at the same time just be yourself. Be respectful. Be patient if you don't get to play right away. Your time and opportunity will come."

Meeks said Patterson talked to him when he was weighing his options last month.

"There is only a small window to go to the NBA," Meeks said he told Patterson. "It was great if he would have stayed, but if you want to leave you have to make the best decision for yourself."

Meeks' 76ers own the second pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, so the possibility of playing with one of Kentucky's freshmen stars is still a very real possibility. Both Wall and Cousins are thought to be top-five picks.

"I could be playing with John, I could be playing with DeMarcus," Meeks said. "That could be fun to play with those guys since I never got a chance to play with them."

UK fans would love to see what that would have looked like.

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Good on Jodie for thinking of the future. Basketball careers don't last forever and he's being proactive in making sure he has an education to fall back on.

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  • Rosie: Good on Jodie for thinking of the future. Basketball careers don't last forever and he's being proactive in making sure read more